It all began with a short and dry noise sounding through the muddy ways between a few miserable barracks. Some people used the words farming village to describe them, but nobody would call this place their home. The lack of an inn or a simple tavern showed how this uninviting place purely existed for those forced to live here. A typical day on the fields would keep them occupied from the earliest rays of the morning sun till the gray embrace of dusk. Those surviving the harsh work for another day would gobble down a tasteless meal with mucky water before returning to their beds made out of rough burlap and straw. Stories of hope and freedom, whispered in the darkness of the night, were the only resistance the residents could muster before falling into a dreamless sleep.
This nameless village was one of many small settlements at the northern border of the Dragon Kingdom. But the name their ancestors had chosen for the imposing tone just ignited the desire of the neighboring countries and only the kingdom’s overwhelming military might could preserve the fragile peace. Hence it only took a single inner conflict between princes to invite those driven by their greed and no week went by without new smoke in the sky. Walls made of stone could soon be found around all cities and towns, prompting more and more farmers to leave their fields and seek the safety inside. The kingdom’s food production dropped with each new idle field and the wide northern plains were too fertile to ignore. Consequently, the king sent a small force of his own to resume the farming.
Those few soldiers weren’t able to secure the safety of the northern plains but it was enough to monitor a much bigger number of serfs. These poor souls were used to build wooden barracks, harvest the yield and sow new crops. Every time the enemy’s armies burnt a village to the ground, the serfs built a new one just a few kilometers away. Every time a field became barren under the ever moving feet of the soldiers, the serfs would plow a new piece of land not far away. And every time the residents tried to revolt, swords and bows killed them all. There was no shortage of criminals and serfs and every dead one got replaced by two newcomers. Relentless cracks soon filled the air and the never resting whips forced the kingdom back to order. Over the years every thought of revolt disappeared and the sound of a whip crack became something trivial.
The same applied to that short and dry noise sounding through the nameless village. Each serf had experienced the leather’s impact on their backs so often that they didn’t even turn their head. That was the same for Ketill who slowly made his way back from the fields. The last sunrays warmed the falls evening, and he had used the whole day to prepare another piece of land for the sowing of the winter wheat. It was hard work to remove all the stones and rooting and he couldn’t even remember how many times he had bent down. So if anything he felt happy that the whip didn't target his hurting back.
>>Do your work, be quiet, be quick.<< Those were the words his late mother had taught him. He just had to follow what the warden said and everything would be fine. The whip struck only those who stepped out of line and his 17 years old body was still strong enough to follow. Ever since he took his first breath in this village his mother told him to follow. There may be newcomers still dreaming of freedom or a happy life but Ketill never found these ideas in his dreams. He took his first breath as a serf, and he would die as one, too. It would just be harder to follow if he wasn’t sure of his future.
It’s already a miracle I’m still alive. It’s already over 25 winters since my mother came to this place and we never experienced an enemy raid. 25 years of peace, 25 years a hard worker could survive, the boy though while he rotated his sore shoulders. One of the old wardens once said that the remote position near the mountains made the village unattractive but he couldn’t care less. Politics, kingdoms or armies, all of that had nothing to do with him. His job was to follow so that they would have a good harvest.
Drawing near to the village he could hear deep moos from the meadow. Besides its fields the village was also the proud owner of two dozen cows and the milk they gave was used as rewards for good and quick work. Ketill fancied them as his quiet and quick work gained him more than just a few cups of the delicious feast. His behavior would normally incite the other serfs to despise him but most of them were just baffled when he shared each and every cup with his younger sister Ida.
The innocent smile on her childish face extinguished the flames of envy and the young Ketill became something like an exemplar. More and more serfs stopped their dreams of freedom and worked for another small reward, following the words Ketill’s mother left behind. With no impact on their backs and a cup of milk in their hands many of the peaceful serfs accepted the young boy as their model.
Another crack pulled the youngster back to reality.
Seems like somebody goes up against orders again. Fucking newcomers! They should just learn their place, he shouted in his mind while he accelerated his moving speed. He didn’t care about the newcomers but he feared that the newly appointed village chief would punish all serfs together. They had to slaughter a cow yesterday, and he feared for his bowl of the tasty bone soup.
Another crack and some unintelligible screams sounded from the central place between the barracks. Long before the young boy reached the origin he understood that something was different today. Even from afar he saw other serfs. They turned their heads, stopped their feet and watched the scene before their eyes. That alone meant a big change from their usual behavior but what gave him the creeps was the expression of hatred on their faces.
After two more whip cracks he finally recognized the scene before his eyes. In the middle of the place he saw the chief with his uplifted whip, ready to strike again. His aide stood at his side with drawn short sword, trying to observe each and every movement around the place. Their numerical disadvantage made the situation even more dangerous as he appeared to be in utter panic. Trembling all over the aide took his steps to one side and used the tip of his sword to dissolve the crowd.
“You whore! Who do you think you are? You dare to raise your hand against me, do you have a death wish? Be happy that your little serf body was good enough to arouse my interest. You should cry of joy and open your legs with pleasure," the chief spat out.
His face was red with anger and his wide open eyes stared at the girl in front of him. Following them the youngster turned there, letting out a gasp when his vision showed a childish face. A blooming smile would light up this familiar face in exchange for a mouthful of milk. But all the boy could find was a grimace of terror and fear on his little sister’s face. She cowered on the ground, a bruise on her face, her unfocused gaze jumping all over the crowd. He saw the trail of tears under her swollen eyes and her rough clothes had new fissures all over.
But why? I did nothing wrong, the boy wasn’t able to understand. He did his work, he was quiet, he was quick. He did everything his mother told him to do. The wardens should be ready to reward him for his good work before he would fall asleep while talking with Ida. So what was that scene in front of his eyes? Why was his life falling apart when he did nothing wrong?
Maybe Ida made a mistake, the youngster questioned himself. But he shook his head soon after. His sister was well known for her good work with the needle. She did her work, she was quiet, she was quick. She lived after the same teaching and this last year she got even more rewards than him. Why was she pushed to the ground? Why did she have to cry? What happened to his small world? The boy found no answer to the questions hunting each other in his head.
Another crack left a new scratch and snapped Ketill out of his predicament. The chief screamed again but the boy couldn’t understand the words at all. The moment his sister turned her face in fear, the moment her watery gaze finally perceived him, the youngster’s surroundings went silent. A small glimmer of hope found its way back into his sister’s eyes and that small spark lit a burning heat in his chest.
He knew the chief was screaming something, but it didn’t matter. He saw the aide threatening the other serfs but it didn’t matter. He understood that the other wardens would be here soon, but it didn’t matter at all. He could only hear his mother’s doctrine in his head. The words he had lived after. The words that had once saved his sister’s life. The words that defined his small world. Saying them over and over again in his head, Ketill found his answer.
Do your work - he had to protect his family.
Be quiet - his footsteps made no sound on the ground.
Be quick - this was the only chance. He couldn’t waste it.
Ketill had no weapons, but he needed none. He was a young and healthy boy, his muscles steeled through years of physical labor, one rotation of his upper body gave enough power to his punch. It was a single punch to the temple, and the chief fell to the ground. The clamant impact enveloped the place in silence. The aide turned his dumbfounded face, the other serfs watched the scene in terror and his sister couldn’t even realize what happened when the unconscious body hit her. Even the arriving warden didn’t understand why the peaceful youth would stand there with eyes full of hatred. It was a moment of perfect silence before Ketill opened his mouth and screamed.
“What are you doing? We have to kill them all! We can’t let them get away!"